It is frustrating, heart-wrenching, confusing, and saddening all at the same time: Where is the intellectual discussion at Bowdoin? It took me a long time—my first year and a half at Bowdoin, to be exact—to put my finger on it, but the issue has been brought up several times over the past year. With appearances in Student Digest posts, table tents, Bowdoin Student Government, Orient op-eds, this question is far from new. Yet the question is largely unanswered, and rests even more heavily on the hearts of those who are pitching Bowdoin to prospective students—"What do you normally talk about with your friends? Social house parties?" No comment.

So, why do intellectual discussions hopelessly wither outside of class? Why are students not engaged in passionate discourse about the subjects and values that they claim to hold dear? What happened to reading the newspaper on a daily basis, keeping informed about current events? Why do so few students write letters to the Orient? And why are dinner conversations often superficial, dominated by hook-up gossip or the equivalent?

Six years ago, Associate Professor of History Patrick Rael wrote in the Orient that Bowdoin suffered from an intellectual climate consisting of "dull, dull, dull." This year, I asked him to reassess his opinion, and he said that Bowdoin "hasn't changed appreciably." While Professor Rael's statement is a generalization, I have found that students have more to say.

Ross Jacobs '10, president of the Peucinian Society, experienced similar frustrations at the beginning of his Bowdoin career, but he encouraged me to see things in a different light and think about the potential for intellectual community at Bowdoin. He told me that "the strange thing about Bowdoin is that students, if they were in a highly intellectual environment, would definitely rise to the occasion." His opinion was that while it can be a real challenge for Bowdoin students to find an intellectual community where they can discuss ideas and world events, there are organizations and circles at Bowdoin that already have a vigorous intellectual life. I was surprised by this; obviously I was neither aware of, nor had I taken part in, these intellectual circles.

I also spoke with Christina Pindar '12, who helped organize The Undiscussed. While noting that The Undiscussed's focus is not on intellectual discussion, she acknowledges that "breaking barriers" on campus is the first step to conversation dealing with issues beyond campus. In fact, I received far more responses from students praising the intellectual atmosphere at the College than I would have ever guessed. Thus, I reached an unexpected, yet incredibly hopeful, conclusion: Bowdoin has an intellectual scene, but it exists in pockets. You just need to be self-motivated to find it. Many students feel unable to break away from routine conversations. It is a rut many of us are stuck in, but a rut we can get out of. I spent the first three semesters of my Bowdoin career in this rut; I want to make sure that if incoming freshman get stuck, they will know how to find a way out.

For starters, the pockets of intellectual discussion that I recently discovered include, but are not limited to, student organizations such as The Peucinian Society, The Undiscussed, the Orient, and Curia. Groups such as Bowdoin Debate are emerging. College Houses frequently host coffee houses and speakers. The Committee on Academic Affairs has been considering proposals for a student symposium. The administration brings excellent speakers in venues such as Common Hour.

There are a number of opportunities available on campus. Yet many students are unaware about them. And if they do know about them, they often don't realize the extent to which they can participate in or be changed by these activities. One may argue that age and/or maturity play a large role in this phenomenon; that first years are too overwhelmed with adjusting to college life and forming identities to engage in intellectual discussion, especially at a college such as Bowdoin where students come from diverse backgrounds. This may be true, but judging from the first years I have met thus far, I know many are ready. I would like to foster an environment in which all students can partake in intellectual discussion if they so desire.

Is there a practical way to address this issue, rather than speaking in generalities of "discussion" and "connection"? This issue is cultural, and I will not be presumptuous enough to assume that this op-ed will change that culture. But perhaps contemplating the issue can give us some form of motivation. Many suggestions have been put forth: a student symposium, a Web site and blog that genuinely connect the Bowdoin community, round table discussions, or a group to encourage all of the above. Most importantly, I have found that the little things make a difference. Commit to keeping top of current events, e-mail friends newspaper articles that you find interesting, discuss what you are learning about in class. Be ready to speak out and be challenged.

Those are my suggestions. Please, tell me yours. Don't be stuck without a voice. You chose Bowdoin for a reason, and if you don't know why, then take the time to figure it out. Learn from your fellow students, all of whom are talented and filled with ideas. If you are upset about something, than say it; don't be complacent or cautious with your Bowdoin experience. You only have four years—if you can't challenge yourself now, then when? As Connie Chi '10 said in her Senior Profile: "Do something and make this your school."

Amanda Gartside is a member of the Class of 2012.